Fat Camp Mem'ries

When I was 14 I went to fat camp. It was completely voluntary. The only problem was that I wanted to go to Camp Shane, a famous fat camp in the Catskills that has a great reputation.

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Mar 1 2006, 10:00am

When I was 14 I went to fat camp. It was completely voluntary. The only problem was that I wanted to go to Camp Shane, a famous fat camp in the Catskills that has a great reputation. They have specialized counselors and scheduled activities meant to simulate something resembling fun. It's just like regular summer camp except with bigger pants. But I wasn't allowed to go there because my family keeps kosher and Camp Shane didn't have kosher food. So I had to go to a dinky little Jewish fat camp in a very Hasidic town in the Catskills instead.

It was a pretty ramshackle operation. The brochure called it "a slim-down camp for girls," but it wasn't really a proper camp. It was more of a general weight-loss program for fat Jewish women of all ages. It was run by an old Yiddish-speaking man on the summer resort he owned. He supervised our schedule and other than him we had no counselor watching us.

Most of the women there were very old, very religious women. They had their own rooms in the main part of the resort. There were only about ten kids total and we all shared a two-room cabin. Our ages ranged from 8 to 16. The youngest girl was a bed wetter, and the oldest girl was not fat at all. When I asked her what the hell she was doing there she pinched a teeny little fold of skin on her stomach and said, "Look at me, I'm disgusting." After a while I realized she was bulimic, which I thought was really cool. I tried really hard to be bulimic, too, but I just couldn't stand throwing up.

We all hated each other. At meals we were like wolves fighting over a fresh carcass. Who got the bigger turkey slice, who got three cherry tomatoes in their salad when everyone else only got two. Everything had to be exactly equal. We counted all our food and bartered: "I'll trade you six string beans for three carrot slices." Deals were struck and plates were guarded. Because it has little to no calories, we were allowed to eat unlimited piles of chopped boiled spinach. Luckily, I really liked spinach. I ate a lot of it. I can tell you from experience that chopped boiled spinach looks the same coming out as it does going in.

Sometimes they put out too many apples for dessert. This was a big test for us. Would we give in to temptation? I came up with a solution. Bite the apple, suck the juice out, savor the feeling of the apple piece in your mouth, and then spit it out. It was kind of like bulimia-lite. Soon we were all doing it.

Courtesy of the author

When we weren't eating we were chewing sugarless bubble gum, which we bought by the carton. Either that or sniffing cocoa butter. Cocoa butter smells just like chocolate. It's meant to be used as a moisturizer, but we just used it for the smell. Of course, once in a while we'd get the temptation to lick it, and we would, but it doesn't taste like anything.

An average day went like this: At 6 AM they'd wake us up and herd us all, groggy-eyed, into the back of a van. They'd dump us out at the six-mile mark (and later in the summer at the ten-mile mark) and we'd start our plodding, hour-and-a-half march back to camp where we would be rewarded with breakfast. After breakfast was aerobics, taught by a perky woman with terrible taste in music. We did butt crunches to George Harrison's "I Got My Mind Set on You" (my vote for the worst song ever written), jumping jacks to—what else—"Jump" by the Pointer Sisters, and cooldown stretches to the timeless Martika classic, "Toy Soldiers." Then lunch and a nap, then water aerobics and/or weight room, then a two-mile walk, then dinner, then another two-mile walk, then collapse into bed. The highlight of the week was Monday when we got to walk the three miles into town and eat one slice of pizza for dinner.

I was there for six weeks. By the last week, most of the fattest girls there had lost about 25 pounds. I had lost 15. Granted, the girls that lost the most were the ones that weighed over 200 pounds (I was 160 when I got there), so they had more to lose, but it was still a bummer. And I hadn't cheated or anything, unlike the bulimic girl, who would sneak into town with the weight-room instructor and binge on tons of junk food and then puke it all up.

I had gotten really into weight training, so they told me that the reason I didn't take off more pounds was because I had put on a lot of muscle, which actually weighs more than fat. And it was true; by the end of the summer I was pretty ripped for a 14-year-old girl.

After I got home from camp I tried to eat well and exercise, but it was hard. That's the problem with fat camp: They control everything you eat and you exercise non-stop, but what do you do when you go back to real life? Temptation is everywhere and who has time to walk ten miles a day?

Four months later, I had gained back all the weight I lost.